October Update

Wow! I can’t believe it is already nearly November – and more than three months since I last dropped by to say hello. I hope everyone with school aged children were able to get away for at least a night or two over the school holidays – and that property owners welcomed lots of families to stay.

My own family made our way to Queensland in an old-fashioned driving holiday up the Newell Highway. I have lot of stories bubbling away waiting to be told. There were many highlights, including when a whale appeared about 200 metres behind where my two children were learning surfing at Rainbow Beach. Goosebumps.

And a missed highlight was not seeing Justin Timberlake, who was at Australia Zoo at the same time as us! We’d seen a VIP group being taken around, but could not work out who it was.

New Premium Partners

We’ve welcomed some great new Premium Partners on-board over the past few months, so please check them out and support them if you are planning a holiday in their area.

They are:

Wittacork Cottages – this lovely farm stay is located near Maleny. Here the mix of a working farm combined with rainforest to explore offers exciting outdoor opportunities for a family holiday.

Truemans Cottages – Located between Rosebud and Rye on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, these are true family friendly holiday homes – bring your dog and stay for a very reasonable price in an area that can be quite expensive.

Solitary Islands Marine Park Resort – Located in the beautiful NSW coastal hamlet of Wooli, this holiday park offers a laid-back, comfortable beachside holiday. Kids are well catered for, but with activities to bring the family together too.

Banjos Bushland Retreat – perfect for large families or a group getaway, featuring lovely accommodation in a secluded bushland environment where families can spend quality time together enjoying the many facilities on offer – and all just a couple of hours from Sydney.

Pemberton Farm Chalets – is a peaceful country farm stay in South-West Western Australia and is a great base to explore the local area, but with heaps of outdoor facilities to keep your kids active and entertained on site as well.

Melbourne Family Apartments – Owned by a family, these two self-contained holiday apartments in Melbourne’s Southbank walk the talk when it comes to family friendly. With heaps of extras that will make parents sigh with relief and truly enjoy their family holiday.

Novotel Karon Beach Resort and Spa – this latest offering by Novotel in the popular holiday island of Phuket, only opened its doors this month. It is is managed by a dad and has been set up with families in mind.

 

How it works

For some of you, this will be the first newsletter, so I thought I’d explain a bit about how Family Friendly Accommodation works and why there are different sorts of listings.

I set up the website in early 2012 as a one-stop-shop for families to find true family friendly holiday accommodation on offer. I do this by offering properties the opportunity to showcase their family friendly credentials to you. You then make your own choice. I do not act as a third party booking website.

Premium Listings – these are paid for by the accommodation owner or manager, with comprehensive information and images of the property inside and out.

Standard Listings – these listings are paid for and are highlighted on the listings pages. The listing links direct to the property website.

Basic listings – these listings are not paid for. They have basic information and most of them will link to the Hotels Combined website page, part of an affiliate program through which I get a small commission if a booking is made.

What all listings have in common is that they provide something special – or have a proven track record – as being loved by families. And at the end of the day, my aim is to help parents plan their holidays. I hope we are helping you and ask that you help me too, by letting accommodations owners and managers saw them on our website.

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Aussie family’s French adventure on a road less travelled

Trying to decide on a family holiday that older children will enjoy too can be hard. In this special guest post, Philippa Shelley-Jones, creator of the family tourism app Kid Tracks, tells us about her family cycling trip in Provence.

In early April this year, my family of 5  (husband David, my 18 and 12 year old daughters and 14 year old son), took off on our 8 day family cycling trip, Provence Backroads, run by UTracks, a division of World Expeditions, but without all the frills.

Philippa Shelley-Jones and her family on their Provence Backroads adventure.

Philippa Shelley-Jones and her family on their Provence Backroads cycling adventure.

As we were meeting up with my 18 year old who was (and still is) working in a UK school on a gap year, doing something active outside of the UK for a week seemed like a great way to reconnect before visiting where she was working.

This tour was in the ‘introductory’ category which meant we were travelling an average of about 25km or so a day. It was self-guided, which is what appealed to us. However, it allowed us to cycle in comfort.

For an upfront, all inclusive fee, we were provided with everything we needed, except lunch and drinks. This included:

  • sturdy, geared bikes with panniers, repair kits plus optional helmets.
  • a set of detailed maps for each leg of the journey
  • accommodation in family-run, 2-3 star hotels (The French rating system is different, so I would put them as 3-4 star Aussie)
  • breakfast and a three course dinner either at the hotel or nearby
  • our bags transported for us each day.

Overall, it was well organised and we only had the tiniest, occasional issues relating to directions. But we always managed to work it out without too much trouble.

The hotels (with the exception of one which let the side down a bit) were fabulous and run by the friendliest people. The meals were fantastic – we ate some beautiful French food, including WAY too many croissants, pastries and baguettes.

So many gorgeous cafes to choose from - but at least the cycling made up for it.

So many gorgeous cafes to choose from – but at least the cycling made up for it.

Our trip started at a village just outside Avignon, travelling through to Tarascon, Arles, Les Baux-de-Provence and St Remy-de-Provence. Les Baux-de-Provence was definitely the favourite – just gorgeous.

We always ended up with enough time to have a decent look around our destination, either when we got there or the next morning before we set off.

The riding itself was mainly on smaller roads and lanes, including on the original Roman road Via Aurelia, which was pretty cool. Sometimes we were on busy roads, but not for very long and the French drivers were always very considerate – we were like the Von Trapp family in our long line!

Enjoying time together as a family in rural France - magnifique.

Enjoying time together as a family in rural France – magnifique.

Mostly it was not challenging in terms of slope, but getting up to Les Baux-de-Provence – wow! It was straight up! We knew it was coming, as we’d been warned and the map showed the gradient, but let’s just say there was a lot of walking the bikes up despite lots of valiant effort not to give in!

The next day to St Remy-de-Provence was no picnic either – we could see on the map that it was over Les Alpilles but we were not prepared for the steep hills that day! My 18 year old daughter was the only one who did both steep hills that day without stopping. I had my gears set to the easiest and so my legs were pumping at a million miles an hour but I think at one point I might actually have been going backwards!

There were lots of ooohhh and aaahhhh moments as you can imagine. Lots of fields of almond and apricot trees, olives and grapes. Villas and gorgeous villages galore. Castles and abbeys to visit. Pastries to eat…..and pastries to eat….and did I say, pastries to eat?

This holiday provided us with a wonderful family bonding experience. What was great was that everyone in the family could enjoy it on the same level. We laughed a lot and were together all day doing something we could all get something out of.

Philippa said their biking adventure helped their family reconnect.

Philippa said their biking adventure helped their family reconnect.

Not having to worry about our bags, accommodation and meals (except for lunch which was more often than not, you guessed it – pastries) was a real bonus. As was not having a hire car and needing to drive on the wrong side of the road.

It was really relaxing for me in particular, as the family’s driver, shopper, cook, planner, etc, not having to worry about anything the entire time other than reading the map and guiding us (and maybe which pastry to choose for lunch).

I think it was all good value too. About $1,600 per person over 12 (half price for our 12 year old) for pretty much everything – including the pastries and wine.

All in all I would highly recommend it to any family with older children looking to reconnect, but without wanting the fuss of organising accommodation, hire cars, and food preparation.

Kid Tracks is an app developed by Philippa to help children have an interactive experience at many major attractions, currently in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Hobart. As well as learning about where they are visiting, they can gain points and win prizes.

Revealing the hidden holiday gems of Tassie’s North-West and West Coasts

Based on the number of web hits I get on Family Friendly Accommodation for for family holiday accommodation in Tasmania, this state is becoming a very popular holiday destination for families.

As a Tasmanian by marriage (and having lived there for 4 years, with regular visits since), I am lucky enough to have seen much of the island state, in particular the North-West and West Coasts.

Unfortunately, with the exception of a couple of big name attractions, such as Cradle Mountain and Strahan, many tourists tend to look at this area as the poorer cousin. But that’s just not the case. This region is beautiful and varied in its scenery. There is so much for your family to see and do. And best of all, many of these experiences will cost you little or no money at all.

Tullah

I’ve always been fascinated by this small, almost a ghost town, nestled in majestic mountain scenery. Originally a mining town, it grew in size as home to hydro-electric scheme workers in the 1970s.

A picture perfect day at Tullah, located on the shores of Lake Rosebery.

A picture perfect day at Tullah, located on the shores of Lake Rosebery.

We again visited Tullah in January, staying in a family room in the Tullah Lakeside Lodge – the buildings of which were once the base for many of these workers. The rooms are basic, but the location is not. We were lucky to experience some amazing weather, which allowed for swimming and canoeing.

Setting off in the canoe (Tullah Lakeside Chalet has a small number available for hire or free with some room packages).

Setting off in the canoe (Tullah Lakeside Chalet has a small number available for hire or free with some room packages).

If you time your visit right (which we did not), you can take a 25 minute ride on the Wee Georgie Wood Railway and experience what life was like on the West Coast before the road was opened in the early 1960s (not that long ago really).

The Henty Sand-dunes

Blink and you will miss the turn-off into this hidden wonderland located north of Strahan.

It's hard on the legs, but the scenery at the Henty Sand-dunes is worth it.

It’s hard on the legs, but the scenery at the Henty Sand-dunes is worth it.

Again, the weathers Gods were on our side and we had a picture perfect day to discover this scenic area, which sits between the main road and the rugged coastline.

Toboggans can be hired in Strahan, which will leave your kids full of sand, but loving every minute of it. Ask for details at the tourist information office at Strahan.

How much fun is this? sand tobogganing at the Henty sand-dunes.

How much fun is this? sand tobogganing at the Henty sand-dunes.

Macquarie Heads & Ocean Beach

Make your way out to Macquarie Heads for fishing or just to admire the scenery. If you have a 4WD, you can drive onto the beach (but this also means you have to be aware if you decide to go for a walk with the kids).

Looking back from Macquarie Heads towards Strahan, with Mt Lyell in the background.

Looking back from Macquarie Heads towards Strahan, with Mt Lyell in the background.

If the weather is right, why not take a picnic lunch and watch the sun set across the ocean.

Watching the sun set at Macquarie Heads, at the entrance of Macquarie Harbour.

Watching the sun set at Macquarie Heads, at the entrance of Macquarie Harbour.

Cradle Mountain

You cannot talk about the North-West and West Coast regions without mentioning Cradle Mountain. I love both the natural beauty and history of this place.

Cradle Mountain is spectacular whatever the weather, but encountering a day like this is rare and very special.

Cradle Mountain is spectacular whatever the weather, but being an alpine area with high rainfall, encountering a day like this is rare and very special. This picture was taken in late December 2009.

National park fees apply here. You can pay $24 for a car (up to 8 people) but if you plan to visit a couple of parks, the 8 week holiday pass at $60 might be a more cost-effective option (see Rocky Cape National Park below).

The Dove Lake loop walk is perfect for families with young children (our daughter was aged 5 the last time we did it). Your children will also love exploring the Waldheim Chalet – built by Gustav and Kate Weindorfer as a home and guest chalet in 1912.

The Dove Lake circuit is one that is more than suitable for families. When this photo was taken, my kids were aged 7 & 4.

The Dove Lake circuit is one that is more than suitable for families. When this photo was taken, my kids were aged 7 & 4.

And if you are lucky, you might see a pademelon (small wallaby) or two.

Fossil Bluff

This place is a hidden treasure. You will find Fossil Bluff in Wynyard – making your way through a fairly modern housing estate to a formation of sandstone cliffs that are more than 275 million years old.

Looking across the beach at Fossil Bluff towards Table Cape.

Looking across the beach at Fossil Bluff towards Table Cape.

According to the Australian Heritage Database, Fossil Bluff “contains an unusually rich combined fossil fauna and flora, including terrestrial and marine vertebrates and a wide range of molluscs, leaf impressions and a pollen flora.”

Go exploring with your children and see the amazing sights at Fossil Bluff.

Go exploring with your children and see the amazing sights at Fossil Bluff.

My children loved discovering this area and were fascinated by the shapes they saw in the rocks and by the many different shaped stone on the beach too. But please, make sure they don’t pick at fossils in the cliff-face.

Boat Harbour

Boat Harbour is a favourite destination in summer – an idyllic white sand bay surrounded by national park and farm land.

But white sand makes for damn cold water and in all my visits, I have only ventured into the water twice (not that kids mind).

Crystal clear waters at Boat Harbour Beach.

Crystal clear waters at Boat Harbour Beach.

The usually calm waters make it perfect for toddlers and in winter, it is a lovely spot for a beach stroll.

Stanley and the Nut

Yet another stand-out natural formation is The Nut at Stanley, a quaint historic town about an hour and 45 minute drive from Devonport.

While your children might not like the thought of walking up to the top of the Nut, there is a chairlift available for most of the year (it is closed from about late June to late August).

The Nut at Stanley - a lovely historic town with plenty to see and do for the whole family.

The Nut at Stanley – a lovely historic town with plenty to see and do for the whole family.

Stanley is also about history and you can stay a night or two in a charming historic building and visit the historic farming property, Highfield House.

For those interested in history and politics, visit the restored 19thC settlers cottage in which Tasmania’s only Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons was born in 1879 (and if you want to take this theme a step further, you can see his family home in Devonport, where he lived with his wife and 12 children)

Aboriginal heritage

Another hidden treasure is Rocky Cape National Park. It is an area that is rich in Aboriginal history, with middens and caves, but also an area of rugged natural beauty. There are a number of walks in the area, including short walks suitable for children.

National Park fees apply (or you can use the 8 week holiday pass (as I detailed in the Cradle Mountain information).

Paper making tour

This is one of the most expensive things to do on this list – at $40 for a family of 4). But it is also a unique one where your children can learn how paper is made using traditional methods.

They will also learn how many different sorts of fibres can be used in the process – including roo poo, which I know your children are bound to find either hilarious or horrifying!

What is great about this tour is that it is also hands-on and your children can make and keep their own sheet of paper.

The tour runs at the Makers Workshop in the Burnie Visitor Information Centre.

Little Penguins

If I had any advice for tourists wanting to see fairy penguins, it is that I believe Tasmania offers a much more exciting, close-up experience than what you can see at Victoria’s famous Phillip Island Penguin Parade (but don’t tell them I said that).

The penguins arrive back on land around dusk from September to March. At Burnie’s Little Penguin Observation Centre at West Park, the Friends of Burnie Penguins have free interpretative tours.

North-West Tasmania is one of the best places to see Little Penguins up close.

North-West Tasmania is one of the best places to see Little Penguins up close.

There is another official viewing area at Lillico Beach near Ulverstone.

But here is my top secret viewing tip. Make your way to Ocean Vista Beach on the western side of Burnie. Here the beach is close to the Bass Strait Highway. Sit quietly in the shadows, and the street lights will provide just enough light to see the penguins as they make their way out of the water.

In nesting season, you may be lucky enough to see babies come out of their burrows, impatiently waiting for their food to arrive. This is a magical experience and if you still really still, they may come quite close to you.

But please, please, please respect these beautiful, timid birds. Do not sit in front of burrows, sit quietly and still.

Stay in one place (penguin footprints in the sand at the back of the beach will give an indication of well-trod routes) and do not walk up and down the beach waiting to see one. You will only annoy people doing the right thing and delay the penguins reaching their young.

The Parks and Wildlife Service has a guide to penguin viewing.

I know I have just touched the surface with what you and your kids can enjoy while visiting Tassie’s North-West and West Coasts

Chances are you will take a Gordon River cruise cruise or hop on the West Coast Wilderness Railway. These are amazing experiences, but they do cost a bit of money.

But what these other places offer is a wide range of cheap and cheerful additions to add to your holiday itinerary that will have you experiencing so much than expected from your Tasmanian holiday.

Where to stay

More information on the West Coast

More information on the North West Coast

 

Food, fun and football – our St Kilda ‘staycation’

As any parent of school-aged children knows, sports commitments, birthday parties and play dates means getting away for the weekend is a lot harder than it once was. That is where a ‘staycation’ comes into its own – having a night away in your home town to refresh and re-charge the batteries.

It really is the ultimate holiday solution for a busy family – Dad can travel to and from work if he can’t get extra time off and family members can arrive and leave and different times, working around social and sporting commitments. It is also a great option for families who want to experience a holiday, but have a limited budget.

Novotel Hotels recently invited Family Friendly Accommodation to learn more about their Family& Novotel promise – which is a perfect option for a family staycation.

Along with 3 other families, we stayed at Novotel St Kilda. As any Melbournian knows, St Kilda is a great family friendly location, with bike paths, playgrounds and great places to eat – not to mention the beach and the iconic Luna Park.

Given it was in the depths of winter, a dip in the water was out of the question, so we all headed to Luna Park. And what a perfect time to visit. Queues were short and the kids (Master 11 & Miss 9) got to go on their favourite rides over and over.

St Kilda beach in winter - too cold to swim, but still beautiful and great for a walk with the kids.

St Kilda beach in winter: too cold to swim, but still beautiful and great for a walk with the kids.

It might be a cold Melbourne winter's day at Luna Park - but that means less queues and more rides.

It might be a cold Melbourne winter’s day at Luna Park – but that means less time in the queue and more time for rides.

I still love the Scenic Railway. Operating since 1912, it still offers enough dips to be thrilling, although it was harder on the back & butt than I remember. It also offers amazing views of the local area.

Luna Park is a free entry, pay for rides amusement park, which means it is easy to pop out for lunch in nearby Ackland Street. We stopped at Zenith Bar & Restaurant, which proved a good choice for both us & the kids, with its kids menu (supplied on a colour-in sheet & pencils). We then headed across to the road was award-winning 7 Apples Gelato. What can I say but yum!

Studying the kids menu at Zenith Bar & Restaurant in St Kilda

Studying the kids menu at Zenith Bar & Restaurant in St Kilda….

 

 

...followed by ice-cream from 7 Apples Gelato. Yum!

…followed by ice-cream from 7 Apples Gelato. Yum!

But back to Novotel. How does it add to the family friendly weekend? Well, considering a child to be up to 16 years of age, as opposed to 12, is a great starting point. That means all children aged under 16 stay free when sharing a room with their parents or even their grandparents.

Plenty of room to spread out and relax in the family suite at Novotel St Kilda.

Plenty of room to spread out and relax in the family suite at Novotel St Kilda.

The family suite at the Novotel St Kilda features two separate beds & Miss 9 quickly chose hers.

The family suite at the Novotel St Kilda features two separate beds for the kids & Miss 9 quickly chose hers.

While many of Novotel’s spacious rooms can sleep 2 adults and 2 children, if you have more children or want to spread out, a second room can be booked for the children at 50% off the best unrestricted rate.

Children can also enjoy a free breakfast when eating with their parents – ours eaten amongst some NSW rugby players and Queensland netballers who had stayed prior to their Sunday games

Little kids are looked after with a welcome gift (such as an activity kit or soft toy) and some Novotel properties also have dedicated play areas for small children.

Kids receive a free toy or novelty pack when they stay as a Novotel guest.

Kids receive a free toy or novelty pack when they stay as a Novotel guest.

And to me, one of the best features is a 5pm late check out on Sundays. That means you can arrive early afternoon on Saturday and not have to leave until 5pm the next day. That means no rushing for 10am check-out.

Unfortunately for us, we had to leave by just before midday so we could get our son to his football match on time. But this again shows the benefit of the staycation – Mr 11 changed into his footy gear after we had wandered through the St Kilda Esplanade Market (right across the road from the hotel) – and just half an hour after checking out we arrived at the oval, earlier than expected.

The fact it was the wrong football ground has nothing to do with Novotel and everything to do with his mum, who is not very good with the fine details. But we got to the right oval before kick-off and his team won. A perfect end to a perfect weekend.

To book your family escape, visit this website to find your closest Novotel. For extra peace of mind, as I always recommend when travelling as a family anyway, I would also personally ring the hotel direct to confirm your family booking, including the late Sunday check-out.

 

 

 

There’s plenty of family fun on the Sunshine Coast

It may not be as glitzy as its southern counterpart, but the Sunshine Coast is a great family holiday destination. There’s heaps to keep the family entertained – starting with miles of beautiful beaches, all of which have a character of their own, that are yours to explore. So, rain or shine, what can you do and see on your Sunshine Coast holiday?

1. The beaches

The beauty of the Sunshine Coast is that there are a variety of beaches in a relatively short distance and whether you have toddlers who paddle in the water’s edge or need waves for a surfing teenager, you will find a beach to suit. If you are looking at staying a while, why not even spread your visit over a couple of different locations.

One of the best resources I like to use is the Surf Lifesaving Australia website, Beach Safe. Just type in the beach name for a range of useful photos and information.

 

There are so many beaches on the Sunshine Coast that you will be sure to find one to suit your family perfectly.

There are so many beaches on the Sunshine Coast that you will be sure to find one to suit your family perfectly.

Patrolled beaches on the Sunshine Coast include: Kings Beach, Golden Beach, Bulcock Beach, Dicky Beach, Kawana, Mooloolaba, Alexandra Headland, Maroochydore, Marcoola, Coolum, Peregian Beach, Sunshine Beach, Noosa Heads and Rainbow Beach.

Sunshine Coast Tourism recommends Kings Beach, Bulcock Beach, Golden Beach, Cotton Tree, Mooloolaba Beach, Mooloolaba Spit and Noosa Main Beach as some of the best for children.

A number of surf schools also offer lessons for beginner surfers, including children.

Surf lessons are one of the activities your children can enjoy on the Sunshine Coast.

Surf lessons are one of the activities your children can enjoy on the Sunshine Coast.

2Enjoy a surf club dinner

As a Victorian, I love having a meal at a Queensland surf club. Where else can you get a decent meal for a decent price, often with the most amazing views – and in a location where you can easily walk-off some over-indulgence right outside the door.

Enjoy a meal at Sunshine Beach,  Dicky Beach (Caloundra), CoolumMooloolabaMarcoola, MaroochydoreAlexandra Headland, NoosaKawana and Caloundra. These places are always full of families, so you will feel at home.

3. Australia Zoo

Still known as the Home of the Crocodile Hunter, Australia Zoo continues to thrive after the tragic death of Steve Irwin in 2006. A visit to the zoo will fill your day. You can self-drive or if you don’t have your own car, the Australia Zoo website details a number of ways to get to the site, including tour bus & public transport.

Get up close and personal with the animals at Australia Zoo.

Get up close and personal with the animals at Australia Zoo.

As well as the many animals to see, there are daily shows, including the Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors adventure in the Crocoseum.  There are too many animal experiences to detail here, but if you plan to do something extra, such as an animal encounters  or the Zoo Keeper for a Day experience, it would be worthwhile pre-booking (Note: both of these involve extra cost).

All the information can be found on the Australia Zoo website, on which you can plan and print out your own itinerary. Also check out special school holiday activities.

3. Explore on foot or by boat

The Noosa Headland walk is one of the most well-known, with the coastal track to Dolphin Point wheelchair & stroller accessible. However, there are many other walking trails throughout the region.

For those wanting to get to know one of the many waterways, there are many options.

A cruise is a great way to appreciate the Pumicestone Passage.

A cruise is a great way to appreciate the Pumicestone Passage.

The Noosa Ferry Cruise Company operates a daily ferry cruise service between the historic riverside town of Tewantin into the heart of Noosa Heads. A number of organised cruise tours and boat hire companies also operate on the coast, allowing you to discover the majestic waterways of the Noosa River, Maroochy River and Mooloolaba River & canals and the Pumicestone Passage at Caloundra.

4. Whale-watching

Hervey Bay further up the coast is one of Australia’s most renowned whale watching hotspots, but you can still see these majestic creatures from the Sunshine Coast.

Whale One tours operate from Mooloolaba, while some of the Harvey Bay-based operators will pick you up from the Sunshine Coast for a day trip. If you want to self-drive to Hervey Bay, it is about a 2 hour drive from Noosa.

As there are definitely more options from Hervey Bay – and this is where the whales are heading for mating and calving, why not organise to spend a night or 2 here as an extension of your Sunshine Coast holiday?

5. Playgrounds

With a climate that encourages outdoor lifestyle, there are plenty of playgrounds for your kids to burn up some holiday energy.

Playgrounds on the Sunshine Coast can be traditional ones - or fun water play parks. Great for cooling off.

Playgrounds on the Sunshine Coast can be traditional ones – or fun water play parks. Great for cooling off.

Use the Sunshine Coast’s Facilities and Recreation Directory to search for playgrounds, bike paths and more. You can also find some information on some of the best parks on local website, Sunny Coast Kids.

6. Mary-Cairncross Scenic Reserve

The Sunshine Coast is not just about the beach – it is also about a spectacular rainforest hinterland. One of the great places to experience it is the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve, a 55 hectare piece of subtropical rainforest, overlooking the Glass House Mountains.

Discover beautiful sub-tropical rainforest and Mary Cairncross Reserve.

Discover beautiful sub-tropical rainforest and Mary Cairncross Reserve.

With more than 2km of walking tracks, boardwalks and viewing platforms, it will enable your family to enjoy the surrounds in a relaxing environment. There is also a café, picnic area, gass bbqs, children’s playground.

The reserve is located in the beautiful hinterland township of Maleny, a historical town well-known for its arts and crafts and also, where you will also find Maleny Dairies.

7. Maleny Dairies

Maleny Dairies is a family owned dairy producing a range of milk products, including yoghurt.  Farm tours are available Monday – Saturday and there is a kiosk where you can buy some yummy milky drinks. The tour will give your kids a great overview of how milk gets from the cow to the bottle or carton in the fridge.

8. Strawberries & seafood

Experiencing local foods is one of the great things about holidaying – and the Sunshine Coast won’t let you down. One of the best meals I had when I visited last year was eating prawns fresh off the trawler at Mooloolaba. They had been cooked – I just took them back to my apartment, peeled and ate. Yum.

Visit local markets to eat and drink the very best of what the Sunshine Coast has to offer.

Visit local markets to eat and drink the very best of what the Sunshine Coast has to offer.

The Big Pineapple now holds a market Saturday morning  The market is best known for its huge variety of fresh and local produce. Virtually 50% of the area is dedicated to the sale of fresh produce, including fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, chicken, seafood and delicatessen products.

Also check out this great website which includes heaps of information about experiencing local produce in the Sunshine Coast region, including cooking schools and markets.

Also, don’t forget to ask the owner or manager where you are staying – more often than not, they can provide great tips on where to eat to help make the most of your holiday experience.

9. The Ginger Factory

On the face of it, your kids mightn’t get excited when you tell them you are going to a ginger factory, but this attraction is a family favourite and is a particularly great rainy day option.

Located between Nambour and Eumundi, entry to the grounds of The Ginger Factory is free, although there are tours that you can pay to take part in. These include:

  • the Ginger train (an historic cane train that takes you on a tour through the gardens)
  • Overboard (a meandering boat adventure ride with a gingerbread man theme)
  • Super Bee (the secrets of bee hives); and
  • the Ginger story (see how ginger is grown, harvested and made into products).

Visit the Ginger Factory website for more details.

10. Underwater World Sea Life Mooloolaba

So, you can gaze out at sea, but to really understand what is going on underneath you need to check out Underwater World Sea Life on Mooloolaba Wharf. Completely undercover, this is another perfect option for a rainy day (but also should be on your itinerary even if the weather remains good).

Underwater World has 16 themed zones to visit, including the Jellyfish Kingdom, Seahorse Sanctuary, Tidal Touch Pools, Seal Island, Shark Shipwreck, Turtle Temple and more. There are feed and talks scheduled throughout the day. And if your children are up to it, they can join the Ocean Ranger program during school holidays (booking required as places are limited).

Adventurous families can also sleep under the sea and see what the creatures get up to at night. For more details, check out the website (and save if you book on-line).

11. Sunshine Castle

Where to go when it rains, but to a castle – Sunshine Castle to be precise – another wet day option for little knights and princesses. Sunshine Castle was actually built in the 1970s and is a Norman style Castle, with medieval additions, complete with moat, turrets, towers and drawbridge.

Today it is filled with medieval displays and other exhibitions you can discover on a self-walk tour. Children can take part in a treasure hunt, and can choose a treat from the King’s treasure when their quest is complete.

Included on site is a Lord of the Rings display and a toy and doll museum. Special school holiday activities are also on offer. A local re-enactment group has a sword fighting training and display on the front lawn of the Castle on the first and third Saturdays of the month, from 10am-midday.

Sunshine Castle is located at Bli Bli.

12. Aussie World

Aussie World is located inland from Caloundra, on the Bruce Highway. While not on the same level as the Gold Coast theme parks, there are enough rides to cater for all ages, with the admission price giving you unlimited rides (family tickets available. Discounts available for on-line purchase).

Experience family fun at Aussie World - also home to the Ettamogah Pub.

Experience family fun at Aussie World – also home to the Ettamogah Pub.

Aussie World is also home to the quirky Ettamogah Pub, where you can enjoy a pub meal.

13. Top Shots Fun Park

Who doesn’t like a family game of mini-golf? Top Shots Fun Park has two mini-golf courses for your family to navigate. Other attractions include blaster boats, vertical trampolining and an inflatable slide and cannonball blaster (both of which only operate on weekends and school holidays).

Top Shots Fun Park is located in Maroochydore.

For a look at some of these attractions, check out Sunshine Coast Tourism’s  Attraction trail video. Need to know where to stay? Check out some great family friendly properties along the Coast.

* Images provided by Sunshine Coast Destination Limited.

Whales, wine and a whole lot for families to discover

As the boat’s captain declared he had spotted our first whale, we intently stared across the water to try and see what he was. It was evident none of us had.

“Come on! It’s that dark whaley-looking whale over there,” he quipped.

Suddenly, there were gasps as we saw the dark back appear above the waterline, followed by the graceful flow of the tail as she disappeared under the water again.

It was the start of our evening whale watching tour off the beautiful Western Australian town of Dunsborough. We were to see a number of cruising female humpbacks and their young calves, as well as the playful antics of a young calf alongside its mum and a breaching display by another adult.

It was not the best trip of the season (putting it in the context of 2013 being one of the best seasons in years), but it was still an exciting sight for those of us on board.

For the uninitiated, whale-watching, which stretches roughly from June – December, is an unexpected delight of this region, better known for its food and wine.

Land-based whale-watching at Sugarloaf Rock.

Indeed, when I visited there was great promotion for the upcoming Gourmet Escape, which this year featured the UK’s very own Rick Stein and Heston Blumenthal.

Big names for a small town – when it comes to food and wine, the world knows Margaret River bats above its weight. But, as I discovered, it is only part of the story.

Do not for a minute think this South-West region is just for couples, intent of eating, drinking, relaxing and romancing.  With its array of scenery and activities, just a short drive from Perth (about 3 hours), this is a great place for families to visit and explore.

  1. The whales

Humpback and southern right whales are the most common species seen in this area, although the rare giant blue whale is also a visitor. The best way to get up and personal is to go on an organised whale watching tour. Ours provided life jackets for young children – a nice touch that certainly made the parents on our trip feel more secure.

Seeing a whale up close & personal is an amazing experience.

Seeing a whale up close & personal is an amazing experience.

Boat tours leave from Dunsborough and Busselton and there are also a number of land-based viewing areas you can try your luck at for no cost at all.

  1. The Busselton jetty.

At 1.8km in length, you won’t miss the Busselton Jetty – the longest timber-piled jetty in the Southern Hemisphere. Built in 1865 and servicing mainly the agriculture and timber industries until it ceased functioning as an official port in 1973, the jetty is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region.

Enjoy a family tour of the Busselton jetty.

Enjoy a family tour of the Busselton jetty.

Children love riding the train to the end of the jetty, where you can descend 8 metres to the ocean floor to view the sub-tropical corals and fish that call the jetty structure home. There are more than 300 marine species living below the jetty.

A family pass to the underwater observatory includes a return train journey, 40 minute guided tour and jetty day pass.

  1. Food, wine & beer

Of course, you cannot visit this area without trying some of the local food and wine, not to mention a locally crafted beer. Your hardest decision will be choosing where to stop.

With families in mind, the Geographe Bay Tourism Association has compiled a pamphlet that details the wineries and breweries with child friendly features – a perfect accompaniment to your day’s tastings. Pick one up at the local tourist information office.

Lovely scenery and great food for all the family at The Deck Marina Bar & Restaurant.

Lovely scenery and great food for all the family at The Deck Marina Bar & Restaurant.

3 Oceans, Cheeky Monkey Brewery, Wills Domain, Eagle Bay Brewery and Woody Nook are just a few that will keep your children occupied. Many places offer meals too.

Other places that will put a smile on your child’s face include Simmo’s Ice Cream, Miller’s Ice Creamery, The Margaret River Chocolate Factory and Old Cheddar Cheese Company

  1. Bunbury dolphins

I have loved dolphins since I was a child, rushing home from school in time to watch Flipper. But your children can see them for real at Dolphin Discovery Centre in Bunbury.

Here dolphins come into the shallows in-front of the centre, with early morning the most common time.  You can also learn more about these beautiful creatures in the centre, which includes a 360 degree ‘Digital Dolphinarium’ where you can experience a dolphin’s world.

The centre also runs a dolphin eco cruise to allow you to see local bottlenose dolphins in Koombana Bay. A ‘swim with the dolphins’ tour is also offered.

6.        Cape Naturaliste

The Cape Naturalist lighthouse marks the start of the Cape to Cape Track (to Cape Leeuwin, further south).

Your children will love exploring the lighthouse and hearing about shipwrecks, life as a lighthouse keeper, not to mention the resident ghosts.

Purchase a family ticket for a fully guided tour or buy a combined ticket to visit the nearby Ngilgi Caves.

  1. Caves

A visit to the underworld will be a feature of any family holiday in this area.

Located underneath the limestone ridge that is part of Cape Naturaliste, the Ngilgi Cave is a short drive from Yallingup. Rich in Aboriginal legend (and named after a good spirit, Ngilgi), the cave has beautiful stalactite, stalagmite, helicitite and shawl formations.

Your children will love exploring the many caves found in the Margaret River region.

Your children will love exploring the many caves found in the Margaret River region.

Further south, closer to Augusta, you will find an underground wonderland, with four caves to explore. They include Jewel Cave, home to one of the world’s longest straw stalactites; Lake Cave, with its stunning white formations and reflections; Mammoth Cave, which has 3 show-caves you explore at your own pace.

Between June to December, the more adventurous can visit Moondyne Cave. Not being partial to dark, small spaces, I went on this guided tour with some trepidation.  The first to open up to tourism (with historic graffiti to prove it), it was closed to the public for many years, only re-opening in 2012.

There are only basic walkways and hand-holds and no lighting – you carry your own light on your helmet. But this makes for a unique, ‘soft adventure’ experience – with only one small tunnel that requires you to get on your hands and knees and crawl through. See package prices.

7.        The beaches

The beauty of this area, particularly for families, is the diversity of experiences you can have in such a small area. And the beaches are no exception.

From the tranquil calm waters of Busselton and Dunsborough, through to the pure beauty of Bunker Bay, and the surf breaks of Yallingup and Prevelly (where Margaret River meets the sea), you will find a beach perfect for you and your children.

Bunker Bay is one of the gorgeous beaches in the area, many of them toddler friendly.

Bunker Bay is one of the gorgeous beaches in the area, many of them toddler friendly.

Between Busselton and Dunsborough, you will find a number of family friendly accommodation options right on the water, including Siesta Park and Cape View Apartments.

Whether it is water-based or land-based (bike paths and scenic walking trails) activities you are after, you will soon realise the beaches here are pretty damn perfect.

8.  Farm stays

This region also has a growing reputation for farm experiences and farm stays.

For a day trip, visit Country Life Farm or Wonky Windmill Farm and Eco Park to see & feed farm animals, as well as some Australian natives, including kangaroos and emus.

There are also a number of farm accommodation options for those who would like to linger longer with the animals.

9. Kids fun

If food and nature still does not cut it, don’t despair. There are plenty of fun places to visit with your children.

Xscape at the Cape is a fun park just outside Dunsborough. With 10 trampolines, mini golf just some of the activities on offer – and a brand new water play park due to open this Australian summer – this is just the place to wear out your children.

For those who want to ‘lose’ their children for a short amount of time – or do what we do and set up mum vs dad teams and get competitive – choose from the timber maze at Yallingup or the beautiful hedge maze at Amaze’n Margaret River.

10. Surfing and paddle boarding

Older children might want to try their hand at surfing or paddle boarding.

There are plenty of options to get you out on the water, including hiring a kayak to explore the bays and inland river systems or even hire a small power boat – who knows you might be able to catch your own dinner.

The Yallingup Surf School offers a one hour ‘micro-grom’ session for under 10s .The Margaret River Surf School also offers group and private lessons, as well as stand up paddle boarding. Stand up paddle boarding lessons are offered through Stand Up Paddle Surfing.

Stay: Visit Family Friendly Accommodation for some great accommodation options, including Siesta Park Holiday Resort and Forte Cape View.

 

Sunshine Coast Easter fun – something for everyone

If you are lucky enough to be on the Sunshine Coast this Easter, there are a number of activities planned, with something on offer for the whole family.

The Kenilworth Cheese, Wine and Food Festival is on Easter Saturday April 19 – a free event that provides a great reason for indulging in the produce of the Mary Valley.

Kenilworth Cheese, Wine and Food Festival

Kenilworth Cheese, Wine and Food Festival

This year is the 25th anniversary of cheese making in Kenilworth, and along with cheese and wine tastings all day, there will be special activities for children, including the “Cheester Egg Hunt”.

There will also be a cheese rolling competition, followed by a cooking demonstration by Chef Peter Wolfe of Cedar Creek Farm Bush Foods, who will show how to infuse native bushfood flavours with Asian and European cuisines.There will be a wide variety of food outlets, as well as local wineries showcasing their produce.

On Easter Sunday, Maroochydore will be transformed into a multicultural mecca as part of the Ocean Street World Festival, which will include local Kabi Kabi dancers, Greek folk singers, a Latino rock band and North African drummers – as well as cuisine from all corners of the globe.

Lake Kawana will be another ‘hot spot’ during the Easter break, with the 2014 Australian Dragon Boat Championships. Hundreds of competitors from across the country will take to the lake in teams of twenty to paddle their impressive dragon boats to the finish line.

Australian Dragon Boat Championship

Australian Dragon Boat Championships

And with the Sunshine Coast recently scoring a top 10 place in the Trip Advisor Best Beaches awards (Noosa was voted 9th best in Australia), surf enthusiasts will be able to enjoy the Pa and Ma Bendall Surf Classic, Australia’s second longest running surf competition, which celebrates its 40th anniversary at Caloundra.

The 20th anniversary Pa and Ma Bendall Surf Classic

Other Easter events include the Faraway Easter Endurance Ride in the Mary Valley and Easter in the Garden – an open garden event to be held at the Shambles in Montville. The garden is open on Easter Saturday and Sunday.

And if you are planning to stay, don’t forget to check out the best family friendly accommodation on offer on the Sunshine Coast.

* Information provided by Sunshine Coast Destination Ltd

Stretching your family holiday dollar further

It seems we are being informed on almost a daily basis that more & more Australians are losing their jobs as companies cut their budgets. In the meantime, costs continue to rise and families have to tighten their belts.

So, can the average Australian family still afford a holiday? I would like to think so. And in saying this, I want people to think outside the square about what they consider to be a holiday.

A holiday can be anything from free camping through to a 5-star resort experience. It can be one night away, through to weeks or months exploring Australia or experiencing life in another country.

No matter what type of holiday your budget buys, it is about spending quality time together as a family outside the home environment. Getting away from the humdrum of daily life can help us focus on each other and bond again.

So, these are my 10 money-saving tips to help you start planning a holiday or weekend away.

1.    Sign up to newsletters

By signing up to airline & other travel e-newsletters, you can get alerts about up-coming sales and last-minute deals.

Last year, I found myself organising a spur-of-the-moment New Zealand holiday after I received an email alert about cheap airfares and purchased them on the spur of the moment after I got an email alert.

Experiencing the sites (and smells) near Rotura, on New Zealand's North Island.

Experiencing the sites (and smells) near Rotorua, on New Zealand’s North Island.

Many airline deals are for flights months in advance, which also means you can purchase the tickets – then spend more time to save up for accommodation.

Then, last winter (off season), we had a weekend away after I saw last minute rates for accommodation in a popular Victorian seaside resort. For $174 a night, we got a 2-bedroom cabin for four of us, including a buffet breakfast.

This beachside location is booked up in summer, but not as popular in the depths of a cold Victorian winter, when less people want to stay, so deals are offered. Which leads me to my next tip.

2.    Travel off-season

Once your children are at school, you are tied into taking your holidays when everyone else does – and you will pay top price for the privilege!

You will find some really good prices outside the peak holiday seasons. Sure if might not be as warm, but it will be less crowded and you might be able to have a longer stay than if you were paying peak-rate prices.

Holiday off-season - it's cheaper and you can have the whole beach to yourself.

Holiday off-season – it’s cheaper and you can have the whole beach to yourself.

This is especially so in popular holiday destinations, which have with an abundance of accommodation for peak periods, but will offer some amazing rates as they struggle to fill rooms during the off-season.

3.    Stay close to the popular tourist town

So, you want to see all the attractions of the popular tourist town, but find all the accommodation overpriced? Can you stay in a less-popular town close-by? You might find it will save you money.

You may well find some towns cheaper than others in a region, while larger towns and cities can have varying prices depending on where they are located (eg, staying in suburbs rather than the city centre).

4.    Take a city break

If you live close to a major city or regional town, why not become a tourist for the weekend?

I live less than an hour from Melbourne’s CBD, where I have also worked for many years. But travelling in for a weekend and staying the night is a whole other experience.

Discover your home town.

Discover your home town – in this case, Melbourne.

Leave the car at home & catch public transport to save money and discover the local parks and gardens or just wander through the streets. Some cities also provide free public transport for visitors, such as the City Loop tram in Melbourne.

If possible, try to find a package including breakfast. Finding accommodation with a kitchenette can make it even cheaper.

5.    Self-cater

Self-catering is one of the best ways to save money on a holiday.

There is no doubt that eating out as a family can cost a fortune – especially if you are eating 3 meals a day. Often it is these extra costs that can really blow out the budget.

Staying in an apartment or a hotel room with a kitchenette so you do not need to go out for meals all the time will save you heaps.

Self-catering saves money - and saves you from dragging tired children into a cafe or restaurant.

Self-catering saves money – and saves you from dragging tired children into a cafe or restaurant.

To make it extra special, consider allowing for treats – for you and the children. Maybe a pack of Magnum ice-creams in the freezer. My children are allowed to eat Coco Pops when we are on holiday instead of their healthy Weetbix. I will sometimes sneak a bowl of it in too!

6.    Deal direct

In creating my website, I wanted to list properties only and leave all the bookings and negotiations to you, the customer.

That is because many booking websites charge booking fees and/or take commission for bookings made via their websites (even if these fees are hidden in the overall price). This can result in you paying more and/or the property owner receiving less.

In most instances, the days of finding cheaper accommodation on booking websites are gone and the accommodation provider’s own website will provide you with the best deals.

Have a look at what you like, then ring and talk to the owners/managers direct. Ask them what specials they have or what the best rate is they can give you.

Some apartment complexes are managed on behalf of different apartment owners. You might be able to negotiate a good rate depending on the apartment’s location in the complex & its furnishings. There is no harm in asking

7.    Stay in older-style motels & houses.

This leads me to my next point. Generally, the less modern the property, the less you will pay. So, another option is to stay in older style motels. Yes, the decor may not have the latest, ultra-modern look, but most are still comfortable and clean.

You can also try older style holiday houses or apartments through real estate agents or holiday house websites – again, older houses with more dated decor can sometimes be available at quite cheap rates.

8.    Share accommodation

If you are looking at holiday houses, have you considered sharing with friends or relatives?

This can be particularly money-saving in summer, peak-periods. In January, we stayed for a couple of nights with friends in a lovely town-house, sharing the costs for the two nights we were there.

Sharing accommodation with family & friends can get you bigger bang for your accommodation buck.

Sharing accommodation with family & friends can get you bigger bang for your accommodation buck.

In recommending this option, I also suggest you read my tips on travelling with extended family and friends as living with others, even for a short-period of time, can have its challenges.

9.    Travel auction sites

There are a proliferation of websites with daily deals. While I have never used them and am not personally recommending them, friends have successfully booked accommodation through sites, such as Scoopon.

Just be aware of the conditions so you do not get caught with cheap accommodation – but only a very expensive way of getting to it.

Another option which my parents are almost addicted to is travel auctions. Again, this will be of best value if you can travel out of peak seasons, as some have block-out dates over holidays. These properties are usually 3-star rated and you can score some cheap deals by bidding what you are prepared to pay for your stay.

10.  Camping

Many Australian families love camping. There are many state and national parks that offer free and cheap camping experiences around Australia. All you need (at the very least) is a tent. Although you can buy accessories galore to make it more comfortable.

There is also a growing trend towards glamping. This can offer a cost-effective solution for basic comfort at a great price. See these static tents at Tathra Beach Family Park are a great example.

Glamping it up at Tathra Beach Family Park in NSW.

Glamping it up at Tathra Beach Family Park in NSW.

If some of these tips have got you thinking, why not create a family holiday fund and set a holiday goal? Even if you can only get away for a couple of nights and can’t travel far, your family will appreciate it.

And in the meantime, enter every holiday competition you see. Remember, someone has to win. Maybe one day it will be you.